The more things stay the same
William is a rock-solid classic that has never slipped from the top 20 list of American boys' names. But behind that steady facade lurks a wild up-and-down fashion ride. Because until recently, boys named William weren't actually called William. They were Will or Willie, Bill or Billy -- and nickname fashion is fickle.
A century ago the W nicknames of William ruled, so much so that they became hit names on their own. Incredibly, the given name Willie was more popular in 1910 than any name is today. By the 20s, though, the tide was turning. Bill was the more contemporary choice, and it became one of the standard casual names of the mid-20th century.
Then the late '60s hit, and Bill began a freefall. With the generation gap widening, a standard guy of your father's or grandfather's era was just not cool. All the mainstream classics were affected, but their nicknames most dramatically. Names like Bill, Jim and Bob fell off a cliff, as nicknames and given names.
And today? William is still holding on as a popular given name, but the everyday form of the name has splintered. In some families, old-fashioned Will is making a comeback. Others are demanding the full William. And a growing few are using the truncated Irish form Liam as a nickname. You can see it all playing out in the stats:
The real cultural shift is probably even bigger than it looks, because the graph only counts given names. When your given name falls out of fashion, you live with it. A nickname is easier to change, so chances are a lot of young Bills turned themselves into Wills or Williams during their teenage years. (And even more Dicks became Ricks.) All of which points to a funny fact about classic names: one way to stay steady and timeless is by changing with the times.